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Q&A with Erica Brescia, Bitnami: Continuous Deployment at Production Scale

17 May 2016 8:14am, by

Perhaps no one knows about continuous integration and continuous deployment more than Bitnami. The company currently maintains over 137,000 unique cloud and virtual machine images, covering open source and proprietary applications, libraries, frameworks and operating systems. Most of the major cloud providers rely on Bitnami packages to keep up to date the copies of the software they offer to their customers, as do many enterprises. This is no small task in this day-and-age of frequent bug updates and security fixes. In many cases, Bitnami can get out patched versions of the software even before they cloud provider can patch their systems.

To learn more about Bitnami’s operations, we visited co-founder and chief operating officer Erica Brescia in the company’s San Francisco office. The company plans to release the framework it uses to rebuild and deploy application packages, to be called Bitnami Enterprise, which will be something that no doubt could be very useful to many organizations maintaining their own software. We talked about the challenges of keeping open source software up to date and packaged, the machinery behind Bitnami’s operations, as well as Stacksmith, the company’s tool that allows end-users to that generates Docker files for custom applications. We also couldn’t help but quiz Brescia on how the company is seeing the emerging cloud market is progressing.

TNS:  Where did the idea for Bitnami come from?

Brescia: It’s been very organic. We started out with a cross-platform installation tool called InstallBuilder, which we still sell all over the world under the BitRock brand. So, companies like Intel and Samsung and General Dynamics buy licenses, use it to package up their software and ship installers from multiple platforms.

TNS: It’s always been something for the Independent Software Providers?

Brescia: Yeah, it has. We have always been focused on installation and deployment, in particular, across multiple platforms. One of the cool things that you can do with InstallBuilder is build one installer for Linux that can install and configure your complete stack on virtually any Linux distribution. It knows exactly where to install things and how permissions and everything else works across all the different operating systems. You say, “Build me an installer for whichever platform,” and it will do it. And you don’t have to know all of the particular ways that each OS works. So if you think about what an installer really is, it is a cross-platform configuration engine, right?

TNS: It is.

Brescia: So that became the underlying foundation for everything else that we’ve done, which is all about software configuration and deployment, essentially. So we started working with commercial open source ISVs, like SugarCRM, MySQL, Jaspersoft, Alfresco, Zenoss, Groundwork when all these guys were starting to build up businesses. There was a huge wave of open source companies getting funded, and we really became kind of the standard solution for those companies to deliver their software to end users.

The challenge they had was that open source was beginning to move more into the mainstream and was going from middleware up to the application level. When you’re at that level, you’re not selling to a developer anymore; you’re selling to a business person who has no idea how to install and configure Apache. Bitnami could deliver the whole, say, SugarCRM stack using our installers and give somebody a clickable install experience under Mac or Windows laptops. This allowed less technical people to evaluate the software. And then when they decided they wanted it, of course, the IT department could go and install it, use our Linux installer and install it on the server somewhere.

That’s where we really saw the impact of providing these kinds of pre-fabbed, pre-integrated, and ready-to-run stacks of software. We were reducing installation-related support requests by over 50 percent because things were set up the right way.

That was really the genesis for Bitnami. We saw how beneficial building these software stacks was for these companies and how we were helping them grow their businesses. So we decided to take that to the next level, package up more open source software.

Over the years, we’ve gotten very, very good at packaging full of stacks of software. We’ve built a completely automated system that monitors everything that we package.

We started out with native installers then VMs became more popular. So we started shipping VMs. Then, all the cloud platforms came online. We first started building AMIs [Amazon Machine Images] for Amazon way back before they even had a marketplace. We became the most popular provider of apps there. Once the other cloud vendors started building out their marketplaces, they saw Bitnami apps on Amazon, and they naturally started coming to Bitnami because we’re the experts in this space.

We’re now on Amazon, Azure, Google, Oracle, VMware, CenturyLink, 1&1, and GoDaddy, with a bunch of other cloud platforms on the way. In the case of just about every single one of those providers, certainly all the major ones, they came to us before they even launched the marketplace, because you don’t want to have what we call “empty cloud syndrome,” right? You don’t want to have a marketplace with no content in it.

What Bitnami delivers to cloud vendors is not only just content but content that is always up to date. Bitnami often updates its images and pushes them out to the cloud vendors faster than they can patch their operating system images. We drove 235 million hours of cloud compute usage last year, and this would be a larger number if we were counting core hours instead of simply hours of compute. I’m expecting to at least double that this year.

Bitnami is in a very unique position to help this next wave of cloud adoption. When users come to Bitnami, they know that what they are getting is safe to use; there’s nothing nefarious in the packages. They get a consistent deployment experience and exactly the same stack whether you’re deploying Drupal on your laptop or Amazon or Azure. It makes it significantly easier to move between environments. And our stacks are consistently configured across the entire Bitnami Application Library, making infrastructure much easier to manage. So there’s a huge benefit to users from using Bitnami, and it eases the transition from local to cloud environments.

TNS: Yeah, how do you manage that?

Brescia: Automation. It’s an entire platform that we have internally. We’re going to be releasing an enterprise product later this year that productizes everything that we’ve been building.

So the system ingests updates and kicks off a build and test process. Everything is completely automated. We track CVEs and then we have this thing called the Bitnami Robot that basically spiders all the stuff that we package and says, “Oh, there’s an update to this app. It needs to get packaged.”

There is some human involvement in the process, but not much. Application packages go through a human check before it gets published, for example, but all the rest of work is pretty much done automatically unless there’s a huge change in how the software is deployed and then we have to change our system to update it.

 

TNS: You’ve recently brought some new executives on board.

Brescia:  Yes, we have! I’ve spent quite a bit of my time over the last year building out our executive team. We recently hired Rick Spencer, who was the VP of engineering for Ubuntu. He was there for over nine years and ran all of Ubuntu engineering. We also hired Simon Bennett out of VMware, who is our vice president of product, Dale Brown, our vice president of business development for cloud platforms out of Verizon, Philip Smith, our Chief financial officer, and David Dennis, our vice president of marketing. We have also brought on some exceptional technical talent on both the operations and engineering side. For example, we brought on Ian Kallen, our Senior Director of IT Operations out of Lithium.

We’re growing organically, and we were about 35 people this time last year, maybe not even that. We’re about 70 now, and we’ll be closer to 100 by the end of the year.

TNS:  Is Bitnami starting to use Docker containers as a packaging mechanism?

Brescia: Yes! We’re working on a lot of interesting stuff going around containers at Bitnami. We’re putting containers for a bunch of components out there in the Docker Hub for people to use. It’s the same value prop. Things are consistently configured, pluggable, always up to date. They’re built to work together out-of-the-box. So you have all the right libraries and where they need to be for, MySQL, MariaDB, Rails. Right now, we’re packaging a lot of languages, frameworks, databases.

In November, we launched a new tool called Stacksmith, which will build a Docker file for you, from Bitnami-built and maintained known-good components. The cool thing is it’s fully API-addressable and available via Webhooks. You can hook it into your CI/CD system, and Stacksmith proactively notifies you if there’s an update to any of the components that you’re building on.

We’re really excited about that, and that’s going to be a piece of a much larger product offering that we come out with later this year called Bitnami Enterprise that will allow people again to build on top of Bitnami’s known-good components and use a lot of our tooling to package up and deploy their own apps.

TNS:  That makes sense for the company still because then they don’t have to sync all the expertise into the packaging.

Brescia:  Exactly, packaging and patching. Developers and IT operations folks should be able to focus their expertise and efforts on other things that are much more valuable to their organization.

TNS:   Do you see the user-base you serve shifting to cloud computing?

Brescia:  We do see a lot of people moving over. There’s no question that people are starting to move. It’s very consistent and solid, sturdy growth, I would say. We drive a lot of shadow IT too. I mean, there a lot of people who get frustrated with their internal IT departments, and hopefully, with Bitnami Enterprise, we’ll be able to help the IT departments address that and still keep their users happy by providing them with a  self-service way to get applications up and running.

Bitnami is a sponsor of The New Stack.


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